Wednesday, June 30, 2010
Happy Independence Day!
(I'm sorry there are still no pictures, I'm having trouble uploading them. I'll keep tyring)
I’ve struggled to get back to writing in my blog, partly because I have been so busy, but more so because the things that were so new and exciting to me about living in a war zone have become mundane and in some ways burdensome rather than exciting. I have become so used to seeing armored vehicles, carrying a weapon, wearing battle armor, and experiencing attacks or threats of attacks that I’m not sure what to share at this time. In spite of the difficulties of deployment, my thoughts are turned to the blessings I experience as a citizen of a free nation as we celebrate the independence of the United States of America.
Over the past couple of weeks I have been humbled and sobered as convoys of hummers carrying coffins wrapped in U.S. flags have passed me while working on the flight line. Often this occurs when I am so wrapped up in my duties that I forget there are those from our country giving the ultimate sacrifice every day. It is a constant reminder to me that freedom comes with a price. As the coffins pass by, I often feel that I am standing on hallowed ground. I think about the families and friends of my fallen comrades and how their lives have been changed forever. I am quickly brought to the realization that I too have made an oath to defend my country to my death.
My duties here mainly entail uploading and downloading the aircraft that land at Bagram Air Field. We download everything from pallets of supplies and ammo to armored vehicles. The work often becomes so routine that I don't realize what each pallet or vehicle I download or upload actually means to the war effort. I was reminded of the importance of my duties the other day when I was asked to pick up a pallet for an upload. As I approached the pallet I realized it was a little different than others. When I looked at the contents I realized it was the personal property of a soldier who had given his life in defense of freedom. We were uploading it onto a plane to send to the family members of this deceased soldier. I made a special effort to I handle this pallet with much more care than the other pallets I had picked up that day. I made sure I didn’t let the contents bang around and I took extra time loading it onto the loader. Somehow my job seemed much more meaningful than it was just a few minutes earlier. As I reflected on this experience, I realized that every other pallet I upload or download may be crucial in preventing the deaths of future soldiers.
I have been especially fascinated with how much the United States and other countries are doing here to help the Afghan people establish stability. The base has an American and a Korean hospital which offer medical care to the local people. I have a friend at church who is here to help develop the agriculture throughout Afghanistan. Other friends (military members) do dental work and clean the prison cells for approximately 800 detainees held here at Bagram. I have even made friends with Russians and Azerbaijanis who transport cargo and vehicles to our flight line. I have also developed a love for the local Afghans as they work hard to feed us in the dining facility, clean our barracks and even do our laundry. I would like to share just a few of the meaningful interactions I have had with the people who are fulfilling various missions.
My friend who does dental work on the detainees said that when he heard he was being deployed to Afghanistan he was filled with a sense of patriotism for the opportunity he thought he would have of giving dental care to his fellow service memberr. However, when he arrived to Bagram his heart sank when he was assigned to do dental work on our enemies, those who had either already taken American lives or who had tried to do so. He said that at first it wasn’t so bad as the detainees seemed appreciative. However, as he got to know the detainees they started calling him names and complaining about not getting the care they felt they deserved. Some of them even spit in dentists’ faces or throw feces at them. My other friend who cleans the prison cells said that he went in to clean a cell the other day and a prisoner had left a note with scribbling in English that said, “I killed an American soldier”. My friends say it has been extremely difficult to hold back feelings of anger and revenge. They say it is even more difficult to give care and service to those who wish harm on them. The gospel of Jesus Christ has been extremely helpful in their efforts. They say they are learning to become more like Christ as they serve in this difficult capacity. It was Christ himself who taught, “love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them who despitefully use you and persecute you.” I know this almost seems impossible in such circumstances as my friends find themselves. I think Christ is the only one who can really give this counsel since he truly loved his enemies. He was the epitome of this when he prayed to his father while being nailed to the cross “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” As I have thought about my friends experience in working with the detainees, I am filled with gratitude to serve in the military of a country that seeks to treat our enemies with respect even when we are not treated the same way. I realize that we have not been perfect in this, but I believe that as a whole our country and the military are ultimately trying to do what’s right. The end goal of the detention center is to help those detainees who are exhibiting good behavior to leave the Taliban and integrate back into society.
Some of my choicest moments over the past couple of months have been my interactions with the local Afghan people. They are such a humble and accepting people. I am trying to learn some basic Farsi. When I speak with them, they laugh at me, but seem to appreciate that I am trying to speak their language. It is evident to me that most Afghanis are just seeking relief and stability. You can almost see it in their eyes as they have suffered through the wars and violence that have plagued their country for years. I have tried to make friends with the locals that clean our dorms. The other day, one of the cleaners told me that he couldn’t enroll in school because of the war. He told me that he couldn’t even visit his family in Kabul (just over the mountains from us) beacause he might get shot at. As he told me these hardships from the war I could feel the his longing for peace and freedom. It made me realize how blessed I am to have so many opportunities to gain an education and to be able to freely visit my family whenever I want. The locals who are working on base are seen by the Taliban as supporters of the NATO operations here and hence they are targeted as much if not more so than the military members stationed here. I marvel that in spite of this, the locals continue to come here to work. It probably takes great courage for them to just come to work every day. Some of them are supporting the efforts strictly to take a stand against the Taliban. However, I think most don’t have much of a choice. They just come here because it is the best way they can provide for themselves and their families. How grateful I am to live in a country where we can go to work without fear of being attacked by a terrorist group.
As I mentioned, I have also made friends with the Russians who work on the airplanes we download. The other day I was speaking with one of the Russians on the plane about the war in Afghanistan. (I have enjoyed speaking in Russian since it helps me practice the Russian I learned on a two year mission for my church a few years ago. In fact, before coming here I prayed that I would somehow be able to use my Russian to serve my country. I am amazed out how eager the Lord is to answer our prayers when we sincerely ask him for blessings). Anyway, the Russian crew member had some interesting things to say about Afghanistan. He was a bit pessimistic about the future of the country. He said that many years ago the British occupied Afghanistan in attempt to establish stability, they bit off their piece of the bread, found it be bitter and spit it out. A few decades later the Soviets came in and tried a piece of the bread and again found it be bitter and spit it out. He believes that we will learn the same lesson. For the sake of the Afghan people I hope that he is not right. There is some truth in what he is saying, but I believe things will get better for these wonderful people through time. They definitely deserve for things to get better.
The other day I had a conversation with some of my friends from church about the situation here. Their outlook on the future of Afghanistan was a bit more optimistic than the Russian I spoke with. I was grateful for their optimism especially since several of them have been off base and have had more interaction with the locals than I have had. One of my friends works with the local government to help them develop agriculture other than opium. He said that he believes there is much hope in the rising generation. He said that the older generation seems set in their ways and can’t believe that anyone would do anything just out of the goodness of their hearts. They think that we are all here because we want something (oil, minerals, control over this region in the world). They have a hard time trusting us because they have been led corrupt individuals their entire lives. However, he said he sees something different in the youth and the children. When he goes to visit the villages they jump all over him so much that he has a hard time getting into his vehicle. He said they do this not because they want candy that the Americans often try to give them. What he said they really just want paper and pens and pencils to write with. He says they are so eager to learn. My hope is that in 10 or 15 years, having seen some of the blessings that a free democracy provides us, the rising generation will do all they can to establish freedom in their own country.
As one troubled country, Afghanistan, struggles for independence and freedom, I hope those of us who enjoy freedom can appreciate what we have. While I am not able to spend this independence day with family and friends I recognize that this is a small sacrifice to make considering the sacrifices many of the Afghan people and a large portion of the people on this planet have made throughout their lives. I am grateful that I am able to be here to have a tiny part in helping preserve our freedoms and to help establish freedom in Afghanistan. I am grateful to be a citizen of a country that is willing to spend its time and blood to extend some of the blessings we enjoy to other nations. Happy Independence Day!